AUSTIN (KXAN) — State lawmakers will address the military readiness of Texas youth in a public hearing this week.
The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs & Border Security will take a closer look at military recruiting in Texas over the next 5 to 10 years.
Private First Class Samantha Soliz, 18, said she wanted to expand her horizons outside of her West Texas town. She said it had always been her dream to become a Marine after growing up watching war movies with her dad.
“I wanted to help people who didn’t even know I was there helping them,” Soliz said. She thought it was “cool” to serve her country protecting people.
One challenge for Soliz was fitness. She played sports growing up, but struggled with pull-ups and eating right.
“Having to be healthy was one of my struggles,” Soliz said. “I liked junk food, typical teenager stuff.”
According to the Council for a Strong America, 73 percent of Texans between 17 to 24 years old cannot qualify for military service.
“We know that there are barriers that make them ineligible: education, obesity, drug problems and crime,” said State Sen.ator Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. Campbell chairs the committee that will address the topic Wednesday in San Antonio.
An interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tasks the committee to “identify any additional economic impact to the state should youth not meet physical requirements or required academic performance.”
“We want to be able to drill down into that and find out what the problems are, and is there a legislative fix,” Campbell said. “There may be something that the legislature can do, but overall I think it will be community-wide, if you will, meaning input from maybe business, schools, the legislature and parents to try to make sure our children are eligible to join the military if they want to enlist.”
Recruiters said it takes grit and tenacity to join the armed forces.
“We see young applicants who are young and hungry, striving to better themselves day in and day out,” Sgt. Francisco Perez said.
Military and education experts are expected to testify at the hearing, which is open to the public.
“If you felt the need to direct seat belt use because of deaths in car accidents, if you felt the need to put a warning on a pack of cigarettes, then you should feel the same kind of need for childhood obesity,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Tony Cucolo. He is part of a group called Mission: Readiness, which works to create a healthier recruiting pool for the military.
Data from Council for a Strong America shows 12 percent of adults between the ages of 17 and 24 have been arrested at least once, and approximately 1 in 8 young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither employed nor in school.
Campbell said the future of the state was dependent upon the health and well-being of Texas children.
“Anything we can do to strengthen that is a benefit not only to Texas but to America,” Campbell said.
“I believe what we are going to find is that it is going to be a blend of culture at home — what do the children do when I go home? What kind of food choices do they make? Exercise? Part of it may be just schools taking it on themselves without policy to try to make children more fit,” Campbell explained. “So we’ll be looking at physical education, the type of physical education, talking with TEA about that.”
There are other problems that can arise, too. Private Zachary Martinez said he decided to give the Marines a try after college did not work out. When he first joined, he was underweight.
“I felt like it was time to move on and try something else,” Martinez said.
“I gained 17 pounds after boot camp,” Martinez said, explaining that the workouts showed him what he needed to be working on. He is now at a healthy weight, but wants to become bigger and stronger still.
“Whether it’s gain or lose, do what you have to do to join the military,” Martinez said.
Soliz said reaching her goals was difficult, but the hard work and dedication helped her achieve her dreams.
“No matter what they throw at you, you can get through it,” said Soliz, who will be stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in the coming weeks.
The committee meeting is scheduled for Wed. Feb. 7, in the boardroom at the Headquarters of Port San Antonio.